May 09, 2020

  By Adam Jacobson

The Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council (MMTC), along with 21 other “Civil Rights Advocates,” on Friday just gave GeoBroadcast Solutions a huge boost for a business plan that could greatly enhance the radio industry’s ability to bring advertisers the one thing they desire the most in 2020 but haven’t been able to get from an FM signal — addressable advertising.

The MMTC and the 21 groups “whole- heartedly” support a Petition for Rulemaking filed by the company that asks the Commission to permit radio broadcasters the option to deploy technology that could geo- target content through the use of FM boosters.
The topic of “zonecasting” has been warmly received by broadcasters.

However, the deployment of the technology is still a great unknown. For now, it has largely been part of discussions involving Class A stations, or rimshot facilities, that could benefit from using boosters to hypertarget consumers.

In markets where a 100kw signal designed more than 50 years ago to reach a wide swath of territory — the very definition of broad-casting — chopping that up into micro-zones begs many questions.

Nevertheless, the MMTC, along with such groups as the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters (NABOB), National Asian American Coalition, National Council of Negro Women and the National Diversity Coalition are all for zonecasting.

“In this way, the stations could provide hyper-localized and alternative language news, weather, emergency alerts, and advertising during a fraction of the broadcast day,” the groups claim.

And, they state in the jointly signed letter, “This engineering reform would permit minority-owned stations to better serve their communities.”

The letter further elaborates on how the ability to geo-target content on radio “will be especially beneficial to minority broadcasters and their advertisers, and could have significant benefits for their programming and for minority ownership in radio overall.”

Specifically, they argue that minority-owned stations’ coverage areas tend not to be
as extensive as the coverage areas of stations with which they compete.

“Therefore, minority owned stations typically don’t attract the advertising dollars their competitors attract,” they say. “As the Petition demonstrates with a recent study by BIA Advisory Services and Advertiser Perceptions, the ability to geo-target advertising greatly enhances a station’s appeal to advertisers by enabling ad buys to be targeted geographically.”

But, even this argument has many unanswered questions. Take, for instance, West Palm Beach, Fla., the home market of RBR+TVBR. Here, iHeartMedia and Hubbard Broadcasting dominate the local radio dial. Local owners including Black Media Works may use an Class D FM translator to bring a signal to the community. Or, there is Glades Media, which relies on a Class A and a series of translators, as does the Vic Canales Media Group.

Given the limited terrain these multicultural broadcasters’ stations cover, how would zonecasting benefit them?

On the opposite side of the equation are such monster facilities as 100kw Class C WRMF-FM 97.9, the dominant market leader. Its signal uses a tower due south of Wellington, Fla., alongside U.S. 441 and reaches well into Miami’s southwest communities and north as far as Vero Beach. Could Hubbard “split” this signal to cover the Treasure Coast, north and south Palm Beach County, and then the Fort Lauderdale area and points toward Miami? For that matter, what minority broadcast groups have such a signal?

While the technology is nascent, and the FCC is seeking answers, the MMTC and the minority groups focus their arguments on advertising, and reaching minorities.

“It has been well documented in this country that geographics often line up closely with demographics, including race, ethnicity, and primary language,” the MMTC says. “Consequently, geo-targeting is likely to enhance all stations’ ability to deliver desired audiences for certain advertisers. This attribute would positively impact the value of most minority owned radio stations. That, in turn, will enable the stations to enhance their programming, and improve their owners’ access to capital, their creditworthiness, and their ability to acquire other stations and stave off forced sales of their own stations.”
Then, there is the concept of breaking a station’s programming apart, based on where people are — something that will certainly raise eyebrows.

“The ability to program hyper-local content, including second-language content, during part of the broadcast day will also be especially beneficial to minority broadcasters,” the groups say.

But, is that a consequence of geotargeting we want? What sort of interference could that cause? Would zonecasting irreparably harm the “crystal-clear” promise of HD Radio, something that is still an expensive failure for the industry some 20 years after its initial rollout?

The questions will likely continue, and further responses to the FCC on the NPRM are likely.

What’s certain is that radio wants better targeting of its listeners. How it does it could very well be the most disruptive and evolutionary move FM radio has ever done. What the FCC decides will bring many changes. It is the hope of minority broadcasters that they are positive ones.

About Author
Adam R Jacobson is a veteran radio industry journalist and advertising industry analyst with general, multicultural and Hispanic market expertise. From 1996 to 2006 he served as an editor at Radio & Records.

Courtesy of Radio + TV Business Report

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